Auctioneer (description and history)
by David Millstone
The Auctioneer is Ralph Sweet's signature number, and the dance has a storied history before him. The Auctioneer song was a 1956 hit, selling 2.5 million copies for for Leroy Van Dyke and catapaulting him to country music fame. (Here he is singing it on a 1962 television show.)
Two years later, in 1958, a Texas square dance record label called Blue Star released a square dance version by another little-known individual, caller Marshall Flippo, launching his career.
Buddy Weaver, producer for Blue Star Music, writes, "Marshall Flippo worked out the singing square version at the home of Melton Luttrell, another well-known caller in Texas. Melton played piano and Marshall crafted the figure which was then sent to Norm Merbach, the producer of Blue Star Records. I believe the fiddler on Auctioneer is Earl Carruthers, who was also a Texas Playboy for a few years. The arrangement was not a 64 beat - 7 times through stanza, which is considered standard in MWSDing. Norm Merbach had Auctioneer re-done in the 1970's using a a 64/7 under the orchestration of Dick Shannon, who used Houston symphony players. The new version was anything but country. Both versions are available on CD as Auctioneer Grande, Dance Ranch CD 1078."
Tony Parkes adds, "The reverb in the first recording was intentional on the part of Blue Star's producer. Echo chambers, as they were then called, were fashionable at the time."
• Lyrics for the pop song and the calls as Flippo recorded them on his original version are available here.
In Ralph's version of The Auctioneer, and in this one by Nils Fredland, the caller is directing a basic goal post figure, where the active couples are moving around four other stationery dancers. Another video has Tony Parkes calling Marshall Flippo's second version.
There are numerous routines that can be inserted into the basic structure of The Auctioneer. As long as that fast-talking patter is in there, few are even aware of the figures. And for those who'd like to work on their fast patter, here's a demonstration of a fast-talking auctioneer along with commentary about how his patter is structured. Another video illustrates many different auctioneers at work and follows an 18-year-old competing for a national championship.